April 09, 2007

Victor Mature on my mind

Something Like Life
April 5, 2007

HOLY Week has never been a big thing for my family.

For us, it usually just meant the annual Visita Iglesia, where we were rounded up by my super-religious father and hauled off to seven different churches in the evening of Maundy Thursday. But we were never forced to go to confession, although we did see our parents disappearing behind the mysterious purple curtain hanging over the confessional boxes. Nor did we ever go and make the Way of the Cross, while everyone else in the churches we visited did. Our parents just told us to pray seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Mary’s and seven Glory Be’s. I made it like a game and rushed my prayers to try to beat my siblings or our parents out the church door, all the while trying to look very solemn.

We were never big on fasting and abstinence either. If we wanted to, we could abstain from eating pork like the old folks, but we never felt we were going to hell if we pigged out. But on Good Friday, we always looked forward to the delectable Bacalao ala Vizcaina my grandmother (and now my mother) cooked for us. We ate it at lunch with steaming white rice, then once more at dinner. Then on Easter Sunday, we would have the beef and chicken pochero.

Growing up in an era when cable TV and iTunes were still to be invented, Holy Week also meant being bored out of our wits. It meant no TV, no radio, not even newspapers. This was an era when going on frivolous vacations to the white sand beach of Boracay to party ‘til the wee hours of the morning was still unheard of. I remember gingerly sneaking off to switch on our humongous black-and-white Radiowealth just to see if the Good Lord above had taken pity on a restless little girl like me and somehow miraculously aired my favorite TV programs.

But, of course, I would be crestfallen as there was only the characteristic “snow” showing on all three channels then. I would stare at the screen for what seemed like an eternity trying to will Sesame Street to pop up on the tube. No such luck. It was a good thing, though, that Poltergeist had yet to be thought up by Steven Spielberg; otherwise something else might have made its presence felt on that TV screen.

Sure, it wasn’t all snow and static—and, yeah, I may not actually have been bored until Good Friday itself. During the first few days of the Semana Santa until Holy Wednesday, then again on Black Saturday, I would be tormented by Fr. Patrick Peyton and his beloved Family Theater “Rosary Crusade” series. To the young kids who have never heard of him, Fr. Patrick was the priest who tried to promote the praying of the rosary through dramatizations of the different chapters in Jesus’ life. Of course, the series had no effect whatsoever on me, not even if I did study in an all-girls Catholic school. I still don’t know how to pray the rosary on my own.

After the short dramas usually featuring some well-known celebrities of those times — was that Raymond Burr playing Simon of Cyrene? — Fr. Patrick, in his cracking whiny voice, would make a little speech about the lessons we were supposed to have learned from watching the episode, then he would pray the rosary which we were all obligated to say with him. Then each episode would end with the line—say it with me, people...“A family that prays together, stays together.” Oh, brother!

(Victor Mature...ooof! From IMDB.com)

But if I wasn’t suffering in silence from Fr. Patrick’s melodramas, I was secretly swooning at the swarthy good-looking Victor Mature as the Greek slave Demetrius in The Robe, then in its sequel Demetrius and the Gladiators. Who cares that Richard Burton was in both films, and that he won an Oscar for his role as the centurion Marcellus?!?! Yeah, so Jean Simmons, Anne Bancroft and Ernest Borgnine starred in those films, too! For me, both films were all about Victor Mature...such strength of character...and the way he carried himself (this guy never looked one bit the slave that he was supposed to be)...and oh, how he tried to resist the charms of the hussy Messalina played by Susan Hayward, wife to the emperor-next-in-line!

Of course, watching those films now, I realize that Victor Mature was no great shakes as an actor. In fact, his face hardly changed expressions from one scene to the next. He looked constipated most of the time. Yeah, much like Kris Aquino in all her movies. (Now here are some fun facts: The Robe was the very first movie ever filmed on Cinema Scope, and Demetrius and the Gladiators was actually released on TV seven years before The Robe due to some business kinks in Hollywood. And you thought George Lucas was the genius who created prequels! Hah!)

To make me guilty for secretly pining for Victor Mature, there was of course The Miracle at Garabandal. The film was creepy and frightened the daylights out of me because of the seeming supernatural events that they documented.

In The Miracle at Garabandal
, the four young girls to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared apparently never scraped their knees even though they knelt in a swoon on jagged rocks. Their heads would tilt back and their faces enraptured in what many described as “angelic.” I distinctly remember the hairs on my forearms and nape standing as the host miraculously appeared on the tongue of the child Conchita, as she received communion from some invisible being. So scared I was of these otherwordly happenings that I prayed never ever to be chosen by the Good Lady for an “honor” such as the children received.

My suffering would eventually end, much like Jesus Christ, on Easter Sunday, when all three TV stations returned to their regular programming. Thank God that these days, cable TV has given us more viewing choices for the Holy Week. And with the our DVD players handy, we can choose to ignore the idiot box’s offerings altogether. Hmmm...now where did I put my Jesus Christ Superstar DVD?

(My column, Something Like Life, appears every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

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